When short-lived television shows like "The Naked Gun" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" were killed by rock-bottom ratings after a handful of broadcasts, few fans expected them to be resurrected as blockbuster movies because, quite frankly, there were only those few fans. Looking at it that way, the future seems sweet for "Strangers With Candy," the irreverent 1999-2000 program that will resurface in theaters this summer with a fiercely loyal built-in audience.
"We found ourselves after the series was over," Stephen Colbert said while the cast offered MTV News a preview of the full-length film of the same name. "About a year later we wrote a book, and while we were making the book we kept doing character voices and said, 'Oh, Jerri Blank would say that.' "
"We had like a hundred pages of that," Paul Dinello added. "Then a producer named Mark Roberts came and said, 'Well I can get this money together and it would be no trouble, and you guys could have complete freedom behind this movie.' "
Half-joking, Dinello punctuated his statement: "That didn't happen."
What happened instead was a difficult journey down a long and winding road, with the shared passion of the filmmakers and fans ultimately saving a project that sometimes looked like it might never see the bright flicker of a movie projector. A successful debut at Sundance '04 was followed by months of studio politics and complex clearance issues, until indie distributor ThinkFilm recently rode in and rescued the flick. Now the show's vocal fanbase can finally look forward to its next fix of Jerri, a 46-year-old former junkie adrift in a high school full of "very special" lessons.
"Jerri always needs a moral dilemma," Colbert said of the film's plot. "The after-school specials were always that in the first 30 seconds you knew that mom has a drinking problem ..."
"... or daddy has two mommies," chimed in Amy Sedaris, the actress/comedian who returns for her breakout character of Jerri.
"Or her boyfriend wants to go all the way," Colbert grinned. "So we knew that Jerri needed a dilemma, and we thought: 'What's the most basic dilemma you can have in high school?' And that is: Do you give into peer pressure? And so it evolved from there into betraying her friends, and then the actual event came at the science fair."
With the current "Colbert Report" star returning as loose cannon science teacher Chuck Noblet, and Dinello playing gay art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck while simultaneously directing, the three stars would have had their hands full already even if they hadn't been committed to writing the movie as well. "I'll put a story line or an outline together and structure some scenes, and then I'll take it to these guys and I'll say, 'This is what's going on in the scene,' " Noblet said of the process. "We'll improvise for about an hour in the character voices, and we'll just record what makes us laugh."
Once again alluding to the unpredictable nature of the low-budget shoot, Dinello added that the main plot idea was hatched "two days before the cameras started to roll."
"I had dental surgery," Sedaris said of yet another adversity to be overcome. "I had stitches in my mouth ... but it was easy to slip into Jerri with these two coming up with stuff for Jerri to say. I couldn't wait to say it."
The dialogue was similarly appealing to an impressive list of Hollywood names that proudly count themselves among the "Candy" diehards, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and current Oscar-frontrunner Philip Seymour Hoffman.
For "Sex and the City" star Parker, the film's pickup represents a rare opportunity for her fans to witness the more irreverent side of her personality. "I heard that Think Film bought it and now it's now actually gonna be released, which I think is a great gift for America," the blond beauty said, remembering that she shot her "Candy" cameo in a single day. "I've not seen it yet, but I bet it's fantastic.'
"Some [guests] we fooled, some we knew," Sedaris said of the supporting actors.
"And some we had some information on them that they didn't want out in the public," Dinello riffed, before getting serious. "Some were friends and fans of the show, so when they found out we were doing it they said, 'Oh, write something for me. We'd love to be in it.' Ian Holm we had no connection with. We just sent him a script and a request and ... he asked his son about 'Strangers With Candy' and his son said, 'Yeah you should do it.' And so he called and said he would."
"We were shocked when he said yes," Colbert said of the "Lord of the Rings" star. "We thought that was the stupidest thing we'd ever heard."
Once the cameras began rolling, the three found themselves falling back into their old characters quite easily. "Everything we always do together is to make each other laugh," Colbert summed up of the "Candy" ethos. "If it doesn't do that, then we don't put it in."
This summer the three comedic veterans will aim to make patient fans and newcomers alike laugh as well — and Colbert won't complain if they overlook the finest dramatic performance of his career. "I stretched a little, I went from weak to frail," he smirked, before revealing the secret behind his thespian skills. "I had a very sad childhood and sometimes I'd tell Paul, 'I need an hour to work up to these tears. Just get the crew out of here, it's a closed set.' And then he'd stand behind the camera and mock my figure."
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